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Nelson gives fan experience of a lifetime

Posted Aug 5, 2012

 
Sergeant Eric Rodriguez was presented with a once in a lifetime experience from Bills wide receiver David Nelson.

Now in his third season in Buffalo, Nelson fully paid for Rodriquez to fly out to Rochester from San Diego to experience Buffalo Bills Training Camp.

“It was a long flight (from where he is stationed in San Diego), but it was well worth it coming out here,” Rodriquez said. “When I saw the YouTube video of David Nelson inviting me to training camp, I was so excited for the opportunity.”

He was also presented with a two-night stay and a VIP experience at camp as a part of Operation Gratitude, a non-profit organization dedicated to putting care packages together for soldiers whose tours are abruptly ended due to serious injury.

Rodriguez’s Marine Corps tour in Afghanistan ended after he lost his leg during combat, but he isn’t letting one leg stop the pursuit of his dreams. Recently, he has been playing wheelchair basketball.

“My goal is to make a military team, then go to Nationals.  My goal is to make it to the Paralympics in Rio 2016. I have been getting great training and now I am trying to get better,” said Rodriquez, who witnessed his first ever Bills Training camp.

The VIP camp experience was the 750,000th Care Package from Operation Gratitude.

“I got with my team and got this package together to send him out here, pay for his trip and take care of everything,” added Nelson.

Not only did he get a chance to meet fan-favorite Nelson, but Rodriguez also spent time with Marcell Dareus, Mario Williams, Fred Jackson, George Wilson and Stevie Johnson. Each player took the time to take pictures, sign autographs and thank the Marine for his service.

“It was an awesome experience. They are all down to earth guys. Real friendly guys, which is great,” said Rodriquez.

Nelson’s girlfriend, Kelsi Reich, also found a common bond with Rodriguez while discussing their time overseas.

“Sgt. Rodriguez and I talked about going on the USO tours,” said Reich. “We have both been to Afghanistan. We shared stories about our experiences through the military together.”

After practice came to a completion, Rodriguez was presented with a custom Bills jersey, personalized with his name and the No. 1, from Nelson.

“I didn’t know what to feel, but it is awesome to have my name on a Buffalo Bills jersey,” said Rodriquez.

No stranger to helping those in need after a handful of trips to Haiti in the offseason, Nelson pointed out that his teammates also took something away from the experience with Rodriguez.

“Guys just humbling themselves and wanting to know (more about Rodriguez) and really figuring out what it’s all about,” said Nelson.

While Rodriguez was certainly grateful for the opportunity, the gratitude stretched both ways.

“I’m in awe being around him,” said Nelson. “It’s really an honor and a privilege for me to shake hands with him.”